Ethiopians find a sense of community in UAE church

The Ethiopian community in the UAE uses their church as more than just a place for worship.

Asamenew Abera says church members have helped him to achieve his goals. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // A church is more than just a place of worship for Ethiopians living in the UAE – it is where immigrants can go for community bonding, a social life and even work.
Asamenew Abera, an Ethiopian who came to the country seven months ago on a tourist visa, arrived with no connections aside from a phone number given to him by a friend in Addis Ababa.
He called the number to say he had arrived, after which a taxi was sent to him. He was then brought to meet a group of Ethiopians working in Dubai.
"I came knowing only one person," Mr Abera, 28, said. "When I arrived they first told me to go to church.
"They said you'll get help, information and even get a job. Anything you need, they told me, they'll help me."
So Mr Abera went to St Mariam Sharjah Church and was met with hospitality that gave him a sense of home away from Addis Ababa.
Church members asked about his plans in the UAE, then told him the steps he needed to take to succeed.
"Their treatment was more than just spiritual," he said.
"It is in my heart and they helped me so much in order to achieve my goals."
He got a job in Dubai, and now travels across the Emirates as a deliveryman.
"In Ethiopian history, church itself has a great meaning," he said. "Imagine, even in church events, it is not just Christians who come out. All Ethiopian people come out to celebrate. You will even see Muslims celebrate. This is Ethiopian culture."
S?G, who has been here for three years, said that the church was, for her, one of the only ways to stay social in a place so far from home.
"We go to the church so that we can be together both with God and people," she said. "This way when we go it is both a chance to get in touch with Ethiopians and our faith."
S?G goes to mass on Saturday and said the gathering was a chance to mingle with other members of the community while maintaining a connection to their religion.
"We've helped people out and sent them out after church because a lot come here without much from our country," she said.
"We make sure that they know they have support from our community through the church."
R?N, who works in retail, said the church had helped her get used to life in the UAE.
"This is both a place for worship and a home," she said of the church, which has no fixed location but moves from place to place in the country. "Any home of God can be a home for the people."
She said that the church enabled her to socialise and meet more of her compatriots.
"I am more comfortable now that church has brought me to the Ethiopians and introduced me to life here.
"It can get hard being far from home."